It was “Justin Trudeau’s lousy week,” declared the Globe and Mail editorial headline. “Justin Trudeau is war’s first casualty,” wrote Chantal Hebert in the liberal (and Liberal) Toronto Star. “Liberal strategy on Iraq suffers from incoherence,” wrote Postmedia’s Michael den Tandt.
And so on, and so on. Those were the headlines in media corners that are typically friendly to the Liberal leader. Elsewhere – such as here (unsurprisingly) at the Sun – Trudeau’s critics were even more critical than usual.
Hebert’s column was noteworthy, because of the source and because it was so scathing. “By almost any standard, Justin Trudeau is the immediate political casualty of the war of words that attended the debate over Canada’s role in the international coalition against the Islamic State,” Hebert wrote.
“…the Liberal performance [Canadians] were given to watch this week was more reflective of a third-place opposition party than of an aspiring government.”
When one adds to the chorus of condemnation the public dissent of assorted Liberal notables – former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, former General Romeo Dallaire, former party leader Bob Rae and revered party statesman and human rights expert Irwin Cotler – it all adds up to, as the Globe’s editorialists opined, a lousy week for Justin Trudeau.
Are they all right? Has Justin Trudeau irreparably harmed his chances in the 2015 election?
No, he hasn’t. There are three reasons why.
Firstly, and just as he warned us shortly after he won his party’s leadership, Justin Trudeau makes mistakes. Some of his mistakes – the Chinese dictatorship remark, the Ukraine joke, the Commons curse, the more-recent CF-18 stumble – caused great consternation in the commentariat.
But among Canadians themselves, the verbal gaffes haven’t had a measureable effect. Trudeau has remained ahead, or far ahead, in successive polls.
Secondly, public opinion is notoriously difficult to measure, these days. And assessing public opinion during times of war, or anticipated war, is even harder.
No poll has emerged to suggest that Trudeau’s internally-contradictory position – against ISIS, but seemingly against doing anything militarily against ISIS – is out of sync with the views of Canadians. It is, in fact, reflective of the paradoxical way in which voters assess war.
For example, in the U.S. in January 2003, approximately two-thirds of Americans wanted George W. Bush to wait for U.N. weapons inspectors report on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But at the same time, almost the same number of voters enthusiastically supported using force to remove Hussein from power.
In effect, don’t do anything yet, but do something now. One thinks about it, that more or less approximates the current position of the Trudeau Liberals.
Thirdly, dramatic things happen in times of war. What seemed both logical and moral at war’s outset becomes less so as war grinds on, and as the casualties mount. One need only recall Stephen Harper’s infamous declaration that Canadians who opposed joining Bush’s aforementioned war were “cowards,” quote unquote, to know this is so.
Harper reluctantly came to admit that his earlier enthusiasm for joining Bush was a mistake. This, perhaps more than anything else, explains Harper’s exceedingly modest contribution to the intended campaign against ISIS: the Conservative leader has learned from his mistakes.
Will Justin Trudeau be hurt by his apparent mistake? Will his “incoherent” position, as den Tandt put it, impede Trudeau’s long march towards 24 Sussex? To this Liberal – who is decidedly onside with Messrs. Axworthy, Dallaire, Rae and Cotler – the answer is no. It probably won’t.
Incoherence, in times of war, is everywhere. It is epidemic, in fact.
Justin Trudeau may have had a lousy week, this week. But, in the fullness of time, who is to say that his critics and his opponents won’t, too?